Matthew Dear has mixed up his instrumentation on stage.
Matthew Dear's Black City
Matthew Dear and His Big Hands with Carmine P. Filthy
10 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 28
Howlin' Wolf, 907 S. Peters St., 522-9653; www.howlin-wolf.com
Those who only know Matthew Dear from his prodigious techno tracks as Audion, or his club-clattering work as an international house DJ, may be in for a surprise when they walk into the Howlin' Wolf and see guitars, trumpets and a drum kit onstage. Dear says it's a common occurrence on the current tour, which includes stops in several cities — from Hamilton, Ontario, to New Orleans — getting their first glimpse of the electronic artist's organic new look.
"In Toronto, people were like, 'I didn't know what you were going to do — I thought you were DJing,'" he says. "I have friends in Toronto that knew I was coming, and they didn't know what I was going to do. ... This tour, and this band, it's a bit more subdued, more moody. There's some moments where we make it energetic, but it's definitely more of a rock-influenced set."
A co-founder and cog of the dance music imprints Ghostly International and Spectral Sound, Dear pulled something of a Dylan-at-Newport in reverse with 2007's Asa Breed (Ghostly), releasing an album that put spectral, multi-tracked vocals and varied instrumentation on an even plane with his trademark glitchy ticks and production tricks. The 10 head-spinning tracks on sister album Black City, issued in August, were created in very much the same vein — solo, in Dear's New York City home studio — and had to undergo the same metamorphosis for performance by Dear's band, the Big Hands.
"They take on a new life live," he says. "I don't have a (drum) kit in the studio, so it's a lot of sampling and resampling, me jumping around, doing everything myself. Fleshing it out live, it's deconstructing the songs and reinterpreting them for a live format. It's really fun to play around with new ideas, adding things that weren't there in the beginning."
Those songs begin life as audio embryos; a single beat or vocal scat could become an Audion banger or a Big Hands brooder, Dear says. "Slowdance," for example, might have ended up a dance track. But then he "sampled it, and looped it, and slowed it down by about 10 or 15 bpm. All of a sudden it takes on a lower-pitched, slower rhythm that lends itself to becoming more of a vocal ballad of sorts."
Dear never quite knows where it's going, and doesn't try to: "That's how I find a lot of my melodies and vocal cues: They start off with me just making weird little grunts and noises and utterances, and I'll go from there. I think those trigger tone directions and melodic directions for me. Writing music, for me, is a very instantaneous, therapeutic form of expression. I don't like to sit down and diagram my songs."
But sampling and performance are different skills altogether. "I can play it once pretty well," Dear jokes. "There's moments where I hit the wrong string. It's fun. I definitely get better with each show. The guys are all amazing. They're better musicians. They help me keep my job."
Dance and rock crowds differ, too, he says: "I find myself closing my eyes and getting lost in the show. I think I perform better if I feel like I'm in my studio rather than onstage. When you're DJing, people just close their eyes and dance, and they lose themselves in the music. Now people just cross their arms and stare at you. They could really be enjoying it, too, but they're not going to act like they are."
No one's expressed disappointment with this other side of Dear. Not openly, at least. "I'm sure people get surprised," he says. "But we haven't been met with any bottles onstage or tomatoes or anything though we had some cherry tomatoes in our dressing room last night, and we brought them onstage during sound check. I thought it would be funny to reverse it, maybe throw some tomatoes at the audience: 'Start dancing!'"